Not everyone is a writer and not every idea is best expressed through the written word. Blogs held (and continue to hold) the promise of allowing anyone capable of stringing a series of words together to share their thoughts. Early on in blogging history, you needed more technical skills (e.g. HTML and CSS), but the introduction of platforms like WordPress and SquareSpace enabled many to start blogging with just a few clicks. Combined with an RSS feed, anyone could share their opinions and expertise with the world.
Vlogs—short for “video blogs”—are for those also interested in sharing their thoughts, advice, expertise, comedy, day-to-day life, and many other types of content in video form as opposed to written. Just like a blog is defined in part by its frequency of new and updated posts, “vlogging” implies regularity, that the creator behind the vlog or channel is publishing videos daily, weekly, or on some sort of schedule.
Just like blogging, vlogging has undergone an evolution over the last decade that has taken it from a wild frontier to a widely accepted and highly popular form of content (oftentimes replacing traditional TV programming) used by YouTubers, independent producers, and mainstream media alike. Not only that, vlogging is impacting the future of media in notable ways.
In many ways, vlogging has followed a similar adoption trajectory to blogging, albeit a couple years after that curve. A handful of early adopters are credited with some of the first known instances of vlogs followed in 2004 with the launch of Rocketboom, a daily news broadcast produced by Andrew Baron and featuring breakout star Amanda Congdon as the first of a handful of hosts.
All of those set an important precedent: they accustomed audiences to follow individual creators and talent, a model first established by blogs, where RSS feeds enabled audiences to follow someone’s thoughts and opinions, whether the topic was personal or about an industry or topic.
Vlogging (at this point) was disparate and spread out over individual sites of creators, where videos were uploaded elsewhere so they could be hosted on those sites. RSS and email were the primary points of distribution then since iTunes wouldn’t host audio podcasts, much less video, for another year. Likewise, search was the best platform for discovery of new videos and vlogs. There was no single outlet for creators to share their videos.
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That changed with the launch of YouTube in 2005. Suddenly there was a free video hosting service anyone could take advantage of that had search baked into it. That was revolutionary, democratizing video hosting, even if creation was still somewhat largely in the hands of those who had decent editing skills and could afford good camera equipment.
It wasn’t long before YouTube became the go-to source not just for bootleg movies and TV clips (a copyright fight many media and online companies are still struggling with to this day i.e. Facebook) but for the types of vlogging and independent vlog productions that had popped up over the last few years.
LonelyGirl15 was a big moment both for vlogging as a whole and YouTube specifically. The attention of the entire internet followed, for several months, the daily entries from Bree, a teenage girl who talked about her personal life in a raw, unfiltered way. Bree was essentially the first vlogger in the history of YouTube. The entries became more and more laden down with the story of her involvement with a strange and mysterious cult until months later the whole production was exposed as a professionally-produced effort from CAA, a high-profile talent agency.
Despite the deception, the format became the template most other vloggers on YouTube would follow—one or two hosts shown up close and personal, speaking directly to the camera, leaning in as if speaking across the table to a friend. From here on out, the YouTube star (or YouTube content creator, YouTuber, YouTube influencer) as they’re sometimes known, and their vlogs rose to prominence.
Vlogging caught on for the same reasons blogging did: it gave people an outlet for their passions, expertise and more. Furthermore, the video blog format fostered deeper and more personal connections between creators and audiences.
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Even more than that, though, mobile happened. Suddenly people could not only view but even create their video blog entries on-the-go using their phone. Vlogging was unshackled from the desktop. Mobile was an easy way to consume bite-sized chunks of content, just the kinds of things early vloggers were creating with their four-to-six minute videos. Waiting for the bus? Catch up on your favorite beauty tips.
Around the same time vloggers on YouTube were gaining success in the mid-2000s, podcasting was working on a parallel path and taking advantage of the same leaps forward in both creation and consumption. But podcasting was audio-only, limiting its ability to be truly innovative and a comprehensive medium. Vlogging’s capabilities for product demonstrations and other visuals helped it become the dominant online medium for many of the same reasons TV worked better for many types of content than radio.
Vlogging today is big business. Not only do top YouTuber influencers like PewDiePie command seven-figure endorsement and advertising deals but the number of channels who earn six-figure incomes thanks to advertising and marketing deals rises 50% year-over-year according to YouTube itself. Today’s most popular vloggers like FunForLouis or Casey Neistat collaborate with well-known brands for sponsored deals and are managed by YouTube multi-channel networks (MCNs) or even Hollywood talent agencies.
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With digital video advertising budgets set to continue growing at a faster pace than their TV counterparts, that presents an attractive option for marketers who want to reach the young, affluent, and digitally savvy demographic who turn to YouTubers and other video channels for the latest trends, must-haves, beauty tips, video game walkthroughs, and more who make up the site’s viewers.
As vloggers on YouTube have matured, so has the competition and the quality of the videos that creators are producing. While YouTube has long been the most convenient home for these shows and has adapted its advertising and other revenue models to keep them happy, new players have worked even harder to encourage them to switch platforms.
Over the last few years, Facebook has engaged in serious efforts to get people to move over there, but for the most part, the response from the creative community has been tepid at best. YouTube still offers better advertising and revenue options, and videos aren’t subjected to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm that can limit reach.
Similarly, Twitter has offered attractive incentives, including a more generous ad revenue split than YouTube offers. Still, many creators have had a hard time moving past YouTube after years of building up a following and community there. The company hasn’t been complacent in the face of external threats, introducing Community, a set of tools available to content creators that included a more traditional blog feature along with the ability to post images, GIFs, and more to keep the audience engaged around and in between videos.
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Of course a good chunk of online video consumption comes from publishers and professional media companies distributing through large-scale services. Hulu, which recently switched over entirely to a subscription model, has seen that subscriber base grow 30% from 2015 to 2016. Netflix has seen subscriber growth rise sharply as the company invests heavily in original programming that has captured the zeitgeist. Similarly, original programming and in-demand movies and TV shows have led to Amazon Prime Video becoming the fastest growing streaming service.
As to the future, mobile is the key to video growth. According to eMarketer, digital device viewing is taking an ever-increasing percentage of people’s consumption time, with much of that happening on mobile devices or tablets. Whether or not companies like Facebook and Twitter make inroads with the vlog creation community, their experiments, along with behaviors fostered by the adoption of Snapchat and other platforms, will have an impact on both how and where video is viewed. And all those companies are emphasizing mobile consumption. To put a number on it, mobile video viewing went up 367% between 2013 and 2015.
Vlogging shows no signs of slowing down. Not only does it allow for a unique creative outlet, but the money to be made can be significant as brands continue to see “influencer marketing” as a way to break through the ad clutter and have their message shared by a popular host or hosts who have shown power to influence the behaviors and habits of their audience. With over a decade already written in its history, vlogging appears here to stay for the foreseeable future.
It’s possible to argue that a straight line of evolution exists between the first efforts of LonelyGirl15 and other early adopters and the rise of Facebook Live, Snapchat Stories, and other social video platforms. Without those initial efforts, today’s demand for video content would be unknown.
These vloggers on YouTube set the stage for the format that’s now used by major movie studios who livestream red carpet events on Periscope, by celebrities who post Facebook Live videos from behind the stage at concerts, and the daily shows produced by publications like The Washington Post, Variety, and countless other publishers. Vlogging shortened the distance between social media influencers and audiences in different and often more dramatic ways than blogging did, and it set all creators, big and small alike, on the path to a future where video is ubiquitous.